Tag: Northeast Cetacean Project

Citizen science

by on Feb.28, 2012, under Surveys

Saturday saw an early start and a long drive  south to Far Ings Nature Reserve in the shadow of the Humber Bridge.  The reason for our journey was that Martin was one of the MARINElife researchers delivering a training course for potential volunteer researchers.  MARINElife have survey teams on several passenger and freight ferry routes around the UK, gathering data on whales, dolphins, porpoises, seabirds and other marine wildlife, and those survey teams are made up of volunteers.  Consistency and credibility of the data gathered is ensured by land-based training sessions, followed by ‘on the job’ training alongside experienced research team leaders.

If you would like to get involved, and add to the valuable sum of knowledge that we have about our offshore wildlife, then you can contact MARINElife through their website or e-mail martin.kitching@marine-life.org.uk and we can point you in the right direction.  We’re always keen to add new surveyors to our North East Cetacean Project research team, and you’ll get your hands-on training off the beautiful Northumberland coast.

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Taking stock

by on Dec.12, 2011, under Family and friends

I’ve spent most of the last 10 days in near confinement to the house, and the chance to deal with lots of things that don’t always get enough time when I’m fit and active.

The reason for my confinement was a knee injury that I suffered back in March 2011 while we were offshore, carrying out a transect survey as part of the Northeast Cetacean Project.  I was the only surveyor standing up, as I was trying to photograph a Common Dolphin that had just passed across the bow, when we hit an unexpectedly large wave.  That collision was followed quickly by one between my knee and the back of the seat in front of me 🙁  Lots of pain initially but it quickly eased, and I put all the subsequent twinges down to the inevitable consequences of getting older.  Then, earlier this year, a client who just happens to be a nurse noticed that I was limping slightly and asked if I had any other symptoms…so, in late July I found myself having x-rays and an MRI scan, and trying to find a 2-week slot without any bookings so that I could have surgery.  Now I’ve got a knee that’s pain-free and has a greater range of movement than I’ve enjoyed for nearly 2 years 🙂

I’m not renowned for being a good patient/invalid (as Sarah would attest), but my lay-off has let me focus on a number of things that have kept me from becoming too crotchety about having to stay in the house; last week we had our Grading Visit for the Green Tourism Business Scheme, so as soon as that was over we started looking at the suggestions made by the assessor.  We’re involved in several conservation organisations/projects and it’s really important to us that the environmental impact of our business is minimised as far as possible.  Thursday evening saw me in our office, with ice-pack on my knee, in a conference call about the Northeast Cetacean Project.

As it’s December, Gift Vouchers have been prominent, and we’ve got a special offer until December 17th – Gift Vouchers at our standard trip price (without a charge for the Gift Card and postage).  I’ve used my ‘free’ time to make a few changes to the website; I’ve added next year’s Pelagic trips to our online shop, changed some of our site content, including adding our Green Policy and Responsible Visitor Charter and tidied up the layout of the Pelagics page so that trip reports are all listed together, and next year’s trips are all listed together.

Just 4 more days and I should be able to drive again 🙂

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Whalefest (2)

by on Nov.09, 2011, under North Sea, Northumberland

After spending the weekend exhibiting at Whalefest we were left with more than a few thoughts, ideas, and plans for the future;

Brighton is a long way from home 🙂  The drive back on Sunday evening was easier than the drive there on Friday afternoon, but didn’t seem that far!

There are a lot of charities/volunteer-led organisations in the marine sector and NEWT are proud to be involved in research projects and other activities with several of them.  The Northeast Cetacean Project is about to enter an important expansion phase, and will become a major driving force for marine conservation in the North Sea.  It was heartening to hear about all of the research and community engagement stuff that’s either going on or is in the pipeline for the near future as well.  One burning question though, is why was one marine conservation organisation giving away helium-filled balloons?

There was only one way to follow Whalefest, so Martin spent Tuesday on the PV St Oswald.  Conditions weren’t exactly conducive to cetacean surveying; 5-6′ of swell, plenty of whitecaps, and misty drizzle, made it more of a physical challenge than usual, so it became more of a ‘pleasure’ cruise 😉  There were a couple of avian highlights, though.  A small group of Little Auks flew by and the tricoloured upperparts of a juvenile Sabine’s Gull shone out in the gloom as it passed close by the bow.

It’s good to be home 🙂

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Cetacean season

by on Jun.30, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

As we approach July, there’s always a sense of anticipation when we’re close to the sea on a land-based trip, or at sea on one of our Northumberland Pelagics.  Good seawatching conditions over the next few months will see us gazing towards the east when the opportunity arises.  Seawatching may be one of the more specialised aspects of birdwatching, but it brings an element of unpredictability that can outweigh even our evening mammal trips.

After good cetacean sightings in February and March, while carrying out transect surveys for the Northeast Cetacean Project (NECP), I was excited to receive 2 reports of land-based observations on Sunday and Tuesday;  a possible pod of 5 Orcas was seen heading south past Lynemouth on Sunday evening and then 4 White-beaked Dolphins were off the mouth of the River Wansbeck on Tuesday evening.  The second of these species is the one that we’re most interested in, after all it is the primary focus for the NECP, however Sunday’s report set the pulse racing; almost mythical off the Northeast coast, maybe the ultimate apex predator, right at the top of the list of our ‘most-wanted’.  Maybe this will be the year when we finally connect with it, and my dreams about our forthcoming Farne Deeps pelagics seem to involve something black and white 😉  We’ve still got spaces on those 2 trips so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place now.

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My week in pictures…and a few words

by on Mar.03, 2011, under Family and friends, North Sea, Northumberland, Sustainable Tourism

22/02/2011 Northeast Cetacean Project Transect Survey.  15 cetacean sightings; 21 Harbour Porpoises, 2 possible Minke Whales

North Sea, Northumberland, Cetaceans, Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale

Staring into the teeth of a strong southeasterly


North Sea, Northumberland, Cetaceans, Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale

Our Lead Surveyor, and St Mary's Island


23/02/2011 Advisory visit from the Green Tourism Business Scheme.  Sustainable tourism is one of our highest priorities and visit went well – looking forward to the report 🙂

24-27/02/2011 Outdoor Leisure Show at the NEC, Birmingham.

Outdoor Leisure Show 2011, Northumberland - An Independent Spirit

Northumberland - An Independent Spirit, Outdoor Leisure Show 2011


Outdoor Leisure Show 2011, Northumberland - An Independent Spirit

Northumberland - An Independent Spirit, Outdoor Leisure Show 2011

Outdoor Leisure Show 2011, Northumberland - An Independent Spirit

Northumberland - An Independent Spirit, ready for the start of the Outdoor Leisure Show 2011

28/02/2011 Catching up on admin, dealing with enquiries and holiday bookings and looking forward to Sarah getting back from New York.

01/03/2011  Preparing our monthly newsletter for March.  Approving graphic design for our new vehicle.  Getting the new vehicle safety tested (including a full MOT – on a vehicle only 8 months old, it’s enough to make you weep).

02/03/11 Meeting to discuss/plan the continued promotion of nature tourism in the Northeast.  Dealing with enquiries, and some more enquiries 🙂

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Happy New Year

by on Jan.04, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

Our first blog post of 2011 has been slightly delayed by some technical difficulties, but we’re up and running again 🙂

We decided that the first few days of the year would be spent birdwatching around southeast Northumberland.  New Year’s Day saw us spending a couple of relaxed hours around Druridge Bay, producing 63 different bird species…followed by a very cold, windswept seawatch from Snab Point as we waited for the Humpback Whale found by Mark Newsome and Steve Addinall at Whitburn.  It didn’t pass by us (at least not at the sea surface) but hopefully it will herald another excellent year for cetacean sightings off the northeast coast.  With the cetacean species accounts for ‘Mammals of the Northeast’ to write, Martin will be hoping for more additions to the already comprehensive Northeast Cetacean database as the year progresses.

Sunday was a family and friends day at the christening, and then birthday party, for Annabel, Sarah’s god-daughter.  The only new bird for the year was our garden speciality Willow Tit.

Another relaxed birdwatching day yesterday produced, amongst others, a Waxwing, 5 Goosanders, 2 Grey Wagtails and 2 Nuthatches.  All very attractive birds, that brought a warm glow to a cold winter’s day.

Now the working week starts again, and we’re busy dealing with enquiries, bookings and 3 major projects that we’re going to be involved in this year.  There’s always time for a spot of birdwatching or photography though 🙂

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Stormy weather

by on Nov.12, 2010, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

November is generally a quiet month for NEWT; the half-term rush in late October has come and gone, thoughts are turning to Christmas…and the weather can be a bit suspect.  We had a Safari Day around Druridge Bay and Southeast Northumberland at the end of last week that could have succumbed to the elements but, as it turned out, a combination of excellent birdwatching sites that could be watched from the Land Rover, clients with a real interest in natural history (and expertise in wildlife sound recording)and a badger-watching spot where the trees sheltered us from the rain, made it an enjoyable afternoon.  The flock of Waxwings in Ashington delighted yet again.  Who could fail to be impressed by them? After a spell of birdwatching that was then characterised by ‘lovely weather for ducks’ (Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Goosander, Goldeneye and Pochard were all seen), and some good flocks of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Redshank and Pink-footed Goose, we headed inland to the steep, wooded hillside that has produced some excellent views of Badgers on our Safaris in recent months.  Only one Badger came wandering along – perhaps the others that we’ve watched so often this year were indulging in that particularly human pastime of curling up somewhere nice and warm out of the wind and the rain.

Since then it’s been a busy week, mainly with planning and preparation for 2011 but also giving 2 presentations about the Northeast Cetacean Project.  The first was to a group of postgrad students and lecturers at Newcastle University and then last night, to the Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club.  Both presentations produced some interesting questions, and some potentially excellent volunteers to assist with our ongoing survey work.

Now it’s Friday morning, the howling westerly winds are bringing waves of rain and then sunshine, there’s an intense rainbow visible from our office window and a flock of Redwings are being blown about like autumn leaves.  No matter what the weather throws at us, Northumberland is still a superb county for wildlife and birdwatching; you just need to know how to enjoy it 🙂

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Frenetic Friday

by on Oct.23, 2010, under Choppington Woods, Farne Islands, North Sea, Northumberland

Yesterday involved a real mixture of my favourite places, and a wide range of activities.

Starting just after 07:00 I checked the 12 Longworth traps that we set on pre-bait in Choppington Woods earlier in the week.  With 9 of the 12 having been emptied of food, the small mammals we’re interested in had obviously found the bait.  The one slight problem was that initially I could only find 11 traps!  Despite having a GPS location for each, and marking adjacent vegetation with tags, it took 20 minutes to locate one of them.  Veronica Carnell, who is supervising me while I gain sufficient experience to run a trapping programme on my own, had warned me that this would happen 🙂

Then I had a short drive across to Blyth for the second day of the Netgain regional hub meeting.  It’s been incredibly educational to listen to the views and concerns of other stakeholders, who don’t necessarily approach things from a conservation point of view.  Equally, it was impressive to see such wide and varied viewpoints coalescing into a concensus by the end of the meeting.  Although I have an interest in the project from a nature tourism angle, my main input was on the distribution and seasonality of cetaceans and seabirds off the Northumberland coast.  The protection of the marine habitat is so important to us that, as a business, we’ll keep making my time available for Netgain meetings until the conclusion of the project.

After the meeting I drove to Seahouses and collected a journalist from the Edinburgh Evening News, for a trip across to the Farne Islands.  We occasionally run press trips where the journalist will be accompanied by wife/husband/partner, but 2 adults, a 6-year old, a 3-year old and a baby was pretty much a first (apart from a guy from a local paper in Cumbria who managed to blag a free holiday, for himself and his family, from accommodation providers, activity providers and attractions in Northumberland in 2008…and then never wrote the article that was used as the hook for getting all the freebies – ah well, live and learn).  The trip across to the Farnes was everything I would expect in late October; breezy, cold and a fantastic wildlife experience.  The Grey Seal pups were predictably cute, and at least 3 Peregrines were hunting the Feral Pigeons that live on the islands.  We’ve got a Seal Safari next Friday, which includes a trip around the Farne Islands (weather permitting), a Landrover safari and picnic so give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details or to book (especially if you are a family – it’s 1/2 term week so we’re offering generous discounts on family bookings).  With 5 trips out with clients over the next 5 days (including 2 days where we’re fully booked already) it’s going to be  a busy week.

All of that would have a been a busy day…but there was one thing left, and it was something that I was really looking forward to.  As Newcastle University graduates, myself and Sarah both have an emotional attachment to the Hancock Museum (or Great North Museum:Hancock as it’s now named…but you won’t find either of us, or many other local naturalists, calling it that).  So, yesterday evening I felt quite honoured to be standing in the Clore Learning Centre at the museum giving a lecture about the Northeast Cetacean Project to the Natural History Society of Northumbria.  With an attendance of over 100 at the lecture it’s a subject that people are really interested by.  One of the question asked at the end of the talk was “how will the data be used?  what value does it have?”.  Which took us nicely back round the loop to the day and a half of Netgain meetings.

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Life begins at 40

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

Friday was our long-awaited pelagic to the Farne Deeps.  We’d originally planned the trip for August 12th, but the weather put paid to that 🙁  Rescheduling to September 3rd meant that four of the original participants had to withdraw because of other commitments, but we were able to fill those places and have a reserve list.  Birdwatching from a boat in the North Sea, with the possibility of cetaceans as well, is always an enjoyable way to spend a day.

When I arrived at Royal Quays just after 7.30 I was surprised to see that nine of the other eleven participants were already there; obviously eager to join Northern Experience on our ‘voyage into the unknown’.

As we left the Tyne we soon began to began to find Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins on the sea; all 3 species featuring regularly throughout the day.  Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes were all seen in good numbers (Kittiwakes in particular) and we continued to head north northeast, getting further offshore from the Northumberland coast.

I was watching the depth plotter carefully as we approached the edge of the deep water and, as I stepped out of the wheelhouse, thinking that things could get very interesting quite soon, almost collapsed as Allan shouted “Dolphin!”.  Within a minute we’d got two stunning White-beaked Dolphins bow-riding.  They stayed with us for 40 minutes, and during that time there were at least another three a little distance from the boat.  I managed to get ‘a bit’ of video footage 🙂

As if all the excitement of having the dolphins around the boat wasn’t enough, Geoff Morgan spotted a Grey Phalarope (Red Phalarope for any readers in the US).  After Geoff’s initial call it was 4 mins before the bird was relocated; sitting on the sea in front of the boat as we continued along with the dolphins.  The phalarope, as well as an excellent bird to see in early September, was a milestone as it’s the 40th ‘seabird’ (defined as those covered by Peter Harrison’s excellent ‘Seabirds: an identification guide’) to be found on pelagic trips off Northumberland since the first NTBC organised trip in 1987.

As well as the birds mentioned previously we also found;

Manx Shearwater 4

Sooty Shearwater 4

Arctic Skua 4

Great Skua 9

Typically, the Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas stayed well away from the boat but the Sooty Shearwaters  and Great Skuas were much more obliging 🙂

By the end of the day, nearly everyone on board had enjoyed lifers; the White-beaked Dolphins were a much sought-after species for Joanne and the result of a lot of effort 🙂  With the battalion of long lenses on the boat, there’ll be plenty of good quality images for the White-beaked Dolphin identification catalogue that forms part of the Northeast Cetacean Project.  We’ll be running at least two trips out to the Farne Deeps next year (date and cost tbc) so get in touch soon to register your interest.  With only 12 places available they’ll fill quickly.

After the 10hr marathon of the Farne Deeps, our 8hr pelagic on Saturday was just like a pleasure cruise 🙂  Again we had good numbers of Kittiwake, Gannet and Fulmar,  as well as some very obliging Sooty Shearwaters.  With some of South Tyneside’s finest on board, I was half-hoping that one of them would point his camera at the sky and randomly photograph a Cape Gannet 🙂  Sadly, it wasn’t to be.  Never mind, there’s always next week…and the week after…and next year.

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